Oregon State will be looking for their first win of the season on Saturday, Nov. 21 in their third game of the season-- one against a fellow winless team in the California Golden Bears.
But while the Beavers have had two chances through the early PAC-12 football season to earn a win, falling short against Washington State in their first game and Washington in their second, the Golden Bears have just one game to their 2020 record-- a 34-10 loss to the UCLA Bruins on Nov. 14.
Be it because of inexperience or a team weakness, the Golden Bears defense showed a nasty habit throughout their game against the Bruins of struggling to stop the run. Should that struggle continue into their upcoming match against the Beavers, Oregon State’s offense could be in prime position to take advantage.
The main reason for that? Oregon State’s star running back Jermar Jefferson, who currently ranks second in the PAC-12 in total rushing yards through two games with 253, and first in the conference with four rushing touchdowns.
Facing a Golden Bears defense that allowed over 240 rushing yards to UCLA last week, both Ethan Waters and Jasper Kenzo Sundeen of The Daily Californian feel that Jefferson could be due for yet another big game.
“Cal gave up 244 rushing yards against UCLA. Which, any way you cut it, is not good,” Kenzo Sundeen said. “Jermar Jefferson is going to be the best running back Cal faces this season, he’s been amazing. I wouldn’t be shocked if the Beavers ran for over 250 yards against Cal.”
Although Waters, while concerned about the potential mismatch Jefferson poses against the Golden Bears run defense, expressed optimism that many of the team’s difficulties could potentially be due to inexperience in the 2020 season, and COVID restrictions preventing a few key players from practicing in full.
“We’re definitely a little bit vulnerable, but I also do think that our defensive line didn’t have its best showing,” Waters said. “That was kind of a random turnaround, they had just come out of quarantine. I do think with a little bit more practice and preparation, having some in-game experience, I think it’s going to fare a little bit better.”
California’s run defense won’t be the only Golden Bears’ group on the field in need of a bounceback performance against the Beavers. Chase Garbers, the Golden Bears’ junior quarterback, is coming off a game against UCLA that saw him complete just 54% of his throws, while passing for 122 yards on 33 attempts.
Typically a duel-threat player, Garbers failed to make much noise on the ground against the Bruins, gaining a total of six yards on 11 carries. But like Garbers, Oregon State’s own junior quarterback Tristan Gebbia will be looking to shake off a bad week as well.
After ending his first game of the 2020 season looking good on the stat sheet, completing nearly 71% of his throws for close to 330 yards, Gebbia faltered against a strong Washington Huskies secondary-- following up a strong first performance with only 85 passing yards and completing 11 of his 24 attempts.
Both teams will need improvements from their veteran leaders in order to end up in the win column on Saturday. For that team to be Cal, Garbers will need to look more like his 2019-self against Oregon State.
“In years past, or at least last year, he [Garbers] showed a really good ability to make plays, get outside the pocket, and not turn the ball over,” Kenzo Sundeen said. “That being said, last game was just awful. There’s a new offensive coordinator in town, so they’re trying to put in a new scheme, but he was just missing throws… it just wasn’t clicking for him, which did not line with what he was doing last season.”
If Gebbia and Garbers continue to struggle heading into their next game, it could fall to the defenses from both sides to step up and make the necessary plays. For Oregon State, they might already be heading in the right direction there. After allowing 24 points in the first half last week against the Huskies, the Beavers defense buckled down and held Washington to just three points the rest of the way.
Oregon State will be hoping that second-half defense was more than an anomaly, while the Golden Bears will be hoping to steal some of the Beavers’ magic. A typically stout California defense struggled in their first game of the season, allowing 34 points to UCLA after only allowing teams to hit that mark twice throughout 2019.
If the Golden Bears want to recreate their success from last season, it may come down to a strong effort from Camryn Bynum, California’s star senior cornerback who forced an interception on UCLA’s second offensive possession of the game.
“Be watching out for Cam Bynum on defense,” Waters said. “That’s a player that’s primed and needs to carry Cal.”
Whether it be Jefferson, Gebbia, a recently impressive Oregon State defense or someone else altogether, the Beavers will need someone on the roster to step up and earn the team’s first win of the season. They’ll get their chance on Nov. 21. Kickoff is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. at Reser Stadium.